Is the World’s Largest Salmon Run in Danger?

Bristol Bay is home to the world’s largest salmon run. Located off the southern-most eastern part of Alaska, each year the frigid waters of the Bearing Sea bring millions upon millions of salmon to and from the rivers that flow into the bay. The area is pristine, and has been for centuries, providing the perfect habitat for salmon let alone other wildlife.

Lack of development has kept Bristol Bay unspoiled and therefore provides a thriving environment for salmon

BristolThe proposed Pebble Mine site development threatens to change this paradise. The mine—should it become operational—will excavate copper, gold and other minerals that sit well below the earth’s surface in state-owned land, approximately 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, and another 250 miles upriver (Nushagak) from Bristol Bay. The project promises to be a big economic boost locally by employing many Alaskans at a wage much higher than average, as well as on the state level with tax revenue and nationally, by helping to reduce America’s current reliance on raw materials from foreign sources. However, activity from the mine would also bring detrimental effects to the salmon, the wildlife and the dozens of native Alaska tribes who inhabit the region.

Of course the area has had its share of struggles before. During World War II, the small towns surrounding Bristol could do little more than watch as the Japanese brought massive fishing trawlers to the Bay where they easily outpowered local fishermen. Motorized vessels were prohibited (until 1951), and only boats prolpelled  by sail power were legal, however, the Japanese still fished the waters and consequently dominated the total catch.

Is it about the salmon? Is it about a food source? Is it about the economy? Is it about the environment? Is it an indigenous-people’s issue? The answer: it’s about all these issues and then some.

During the Obama administration, the EPA said the mine was too risky and advised against its advancement. The Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (EPA 2014) says that in the case of a mining disaster, and that in the case of every day operations, the mine poses “significant” risk to the salmon population. Additionally, the report concluded that large-scale mining poses risks not only to salmon, but to the tribal communities that depend on the continued proliferation (of salmon and other fish species), as they have for centuries. There is, however, talk in Washington that under Trump, the EPA could change that decision.

But then there’s this … the Pebble Mine project CEO Tom Collier (who served during the Clinton administration as chief of staff for the U.S. Department of the Interior) said in a recent statement, “The mine will not be built if it threatens the fishery.” So basically, why worry? Right?

There is no law governing how much damage is too much, when it comes to development projects and fish habitat

The underlying problem, when it comes right down to it, is the law—or lack thereof. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game doesn’t have an outright legal basis to protect the water where salmon live. All that is legally required of development companies is that they are “responsible” in the process. So basically, we should worry, right?

I understand both proponents and opponents. But the issue is complex, at best. And I am no expert. But if I had to cast a vote, I’d vote no. Why? Because most commercial fishermen don’t want the mine … and I’m willing to bet if the salmon had a vote, they wouldn’t want it either. That’s all I have … thoughts?

DISCLAIMER: I’m a writer and an editor. And I try my best to make sure every post is articulate and free from errors. However, being that I edit my own work—and it’s next to impossible to properly edit your own work—I admit, occasionally there may be an error or two I miss. But doing so doesn’t make me an idiot so don’t be mean. Just smile, pat yourself on the back for finding an error and be glad you’re not the only one who makes mistakes sometimes … yes, even mermaids slip up every now and then. xoxox </small>

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